published Friday, April 18th, 2014

Opponents launch campaign against Chattanooga city worker's domestic partner benefit

Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, speaks to media in front of the CGAT (Citizens For Government Accountability And Transparency) campaign headquarters about their efforts to sway Chattanooga residents to vote against the "Domestic Partnership" ordinance in the Aug. 8 election.
Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, speaks to media in front of the CGAT (Citizens For Government Accountability And Transparency) campaign headquarters about their efforts to sway Chattanooga residents to vote against the "Domestic Partnership" ordinance in the Aug. 8 election.
Photo by Dan Henry.
  • photo
    Patrick Hampton, an area youth pastor, speaks to media in front of the CGAT (Citizens For Government Accountability And Transparency) campaign headquarters about their efforts to sway Chattanooga residents to vote against the "Domestic Partnership" ordinance in the Aug. 8 election.
    enlarge photo

The Chattanooga City Council's November vote to grant health benefits to employees' domestic partners was "deaf to and inconsiderate of Chattanooga voters" and should be overturned at the ballot box, its chief opponent said Thursday.

Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West and members of a conservative political action group announced their plan to mobilize an army of voters to overturn the domestic partners ordinance in the August election.

"It's a faith, fiscal and fairness issue," West said outside the Brainerd Road office of Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency.

City Councilman Chris Anderson, who sponsored the ordinance, called it something else.

"It looks like the tea party is at it again -- they're going to show what they're bad at, math, when they say [the ordinance is] costly, when in fact it's less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the city budget just to be an equal opportunity employer," Anderson said.

"And they're going to show what they're good at, which is inciting people to action using hate and fear," he said.

Two Chattanooga councilmen --Larry Grohn and new Chairman Chip Henderson -- were among the 25 or so people who gathered outside the offices of Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency for the announcement.

The council voted 5-3 to grant benefits to domestic partners, including same-sex couples. That spurred the citizens group to gather 7,700 signatures on a petition to place the issue on the Aug. 7 ballot.

Grohn and others noted that the council recently approved fire and police pension reforms that curb benefits and raise costs for employees.

"I do not see how it's possible for leaders to pander to a special interest group while cutting benefits for others," Grohn said.

Among the other speakers, the predominant issue was faith.

Patrick Hampton, youth pastor at Hawkinsville Baptist Church, said the ordinance "attempts to undo 10 years of pastors' preaching on marriage and family."

Bishop Mark Sandilands of the Power of Touch Church, said the city could lose tourists if it enters into an "immoral stance." He said marriage "was established in the Garden of Eden by the Lord" between one man and one woman and added, "sin is sin and righteousness is righteousness, and we stand on the side of righteousness."

Rosalyn Hickman, of the Covenant Keepers marriage ministry, said the ordinance is a "bad idea and a bad example to set before the city and young people."

West said the group's will use the tools of politics, such as signs, direct mail and phone banking, to persuade Chattanooga voters to overturn the domestic partners ordinance.

Anderson said supporters of the ordinance will be working too.

"I know a lot of citizens on the other side who plan to wage their own campaign and it will be led by people who live inside the city of Chattanooga -- unlike Mark West," he said.

It looks now as if the ballot question won't be accompanied by another one seeking to recall Anderson. Those opposed to partner benefits as well as some of his constituents who say he hasn't represented them well have a petition drive going.

They must have 1,600 validated signatures by April 29 to get the recall on the ballot. As of Thursday afternoon, they had turned in 725, said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan at the Hamilton County Election Commission.

Of those, 408 were validated and 317 were rejected, she said.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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